China Plays It Cool With Beijing Protesters

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BEIJING: China's officials are not looking for another Tiananmen Square. Two days after 10,000 followers of a group called Falun Gong surrounded the communist leadership compound in a silent protest, Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said Tuesday that concerns by group members about a government crackdown against them were groundless. Falun Gong isn't a pro-democratic movement -- it's a grouping that follows Buddhist law, or "qigong," a traditional practice that uses exercise and meditation to improve spiritual and physical health.

Not that communist China is exactly shopping for diversity, says TIME correspondent William Dowell, adding that the group is definitely on the watch list. "There are so many followers -- more in China than members of the Communist Party -- and they're very well organized. That unnerves Beijing." In addition, the sort of mysticism qigong espouses was also manifest in the turn-of-the-century Boxer Rebellion -- people believing they could resist bullets, for instance -- and that's not a pleasant thought for officials. But Falun Gong leaders, who met with Premier Zhu Rongji on Sunday, say they only want assurances they can practice their faith without interference, and were apparently satisfied. For now, Beijing is happy to let this apparently sleeping dog lie.